“Revival and Honest Questions”                                              March 3, 2013

Malachi 2:17-3:5

 

Please open your Bibles to Malachi 2, last verse.

The Lord is speaking to his people who have grown cold to him.

   He wants to revive them spiritually and bring back into the circle of blessing.

He says:  I love you.  And I have some hard things to say for your good.

   Listen to me.


 

INTRO:  Is it ever right to question God? 

Is it right, for example, to look at the negative circumstances of your life and ask:

   Why, God?  Why have you done this to me?  Why are you doing things this way?

   When, God?  When are you going to answer my prayers for relief?

Is it right to look at evil people who are flourishing and innocent people who

   are suffering and shake your head and ask:

   God, haven’t you put up with this long enough? 

   How long is it going to be, how bad does it have to get before you do something? 

Is it ever right to question God?  Why?  When?  How long?

 

When you look through the Bible, you find believers over and over

   questioning God—and rather than being reprimanded, their questioning is

   presented in a positive way—as part of a healthy, relationship with him.

Abraham, Job, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, are some examples that spring to mind

   of believers who ask God—Why?  When?  How long? 

   And asking him with deep feeling, deep emotion, even anger. 

And the Psalms are just packed with this kind of questioning. 

Asaph in Psalm 74.

   How long will the enemy mock you, O God?  Will the foe revile your name forever? 

   Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?  

The Sons of Korah in Psalm 42.

   I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?  Why must I go about mourning,

   oppressed by the enemy?”

And David,in numerous places, like Psalm 13

   How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from

   me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? 

   How long will my enemy triumph over me?

When we turn to the New Testament, there is our Lord Jesus himself.

   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

   He got those words from his ancestor David, Psalm 22.

 

So we come to this passage in Malachi, and it’s perplexing. 

The Israelites are questioning God.  Where is the God of justice? they ask.

   It sounds very much like question in one of the Psalms.

   Why is our life as it is?  Why aren’t you dealing with the bad people? 

But instead of being commended for their honesty with God,

   they are reprimanded for their questioning.  Malachi says:

   “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” 

God says:  I’m tired of you questioning me.  You’re wearing me out.

   What’s the difference here?  What’s going on? 

Allison and I have always allowed our children to question us—to a point.

We’ve always allowed them to ask us why and to appeal our decisions,

   particularly when we have told them no about something they want to do or have.

We listen to their arguments, we are attentive to their emotional stake in the matter. 

   And we have often reversed our decisions.

I’m sure that if you ask them, they would tell you that we haven’t often reversed

   ourselves, but we have.  They don’t know how good they’ve got it!

 

But if we don’t change our minds, if we have parental reasons for keeping things as

   they are, we will hug them and tell them we know they are disappointed,

   and we wish wasn’t so.  We urge them to rest in our decision and allow us to

   comfort them in their disappointment.

Few things more gratifying as a parent than having your child rest in your decision

   and accept your comfort if that decision is disappointing to them. 

It speaks volumes about the effect your love has had on their hearts.

 

What spoils that moment?  It’s when the child does not accept your final word.

   And goes back and starts again with same questions and arguments.

   Instead of being sweet, this time there is an edge of disrespect that wears on you. 

 

It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it gives us an insight into the tone of passage.

   God’s people in Malachi’s time were hurting.  Life was hard for many reasons.

They wanted God to change things, make their lives better, take away the hurt,

   deal with the bad people who were making life tough for them.   

   Nothing wrong with that.  Nothing wrong with asking God for better things.

 

But instead of trusting the Lord, resting in his providential decisions,

   finding comfort in the parental reasons given in his word—

   they were pushing back with more questions—accusatory comments.

   “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord.”

God, you don’t care and you don’t know what you are doing.

   How did the Lord respond to this disrespectful, accusatory questioning?

 

He told them honestly, Your questions are wearying me. 

   But then with infinite patience, he said: 

Listen carefully, I’m going to explain one more time.

   This is why I’m doing the things I’m doing in your life. 

These are the reasons I’m not changing things quickly, not following your

   timetable or your plans.  Listen to me this time, and quit your whining.

He wanted them to come back into the circle of family blessing.

   He wanted them to experience the full contentment and security of the covenant.

   He wanted their spirits revived, souls rekindled in assurance of his love.

Stop asking the same questions and making same arguments or never be happy.

   Listen to me this time.

 

There may be some of you here this morning who are in the very same place

   as these believers in Malachi’s time.  You’ve quit asking your heavenly Father

   honest questions, and are wearying him with your unhappy accusations.

Why is this happening in my life?  When are you going to change things?

 

There are three things the Lord wants you to hear from him through Malachi.

   If you are quiet and listen, then you might be able to get some peace.

He’s going to answer your why?  Your when?  And your how?

   I’ll give them to you as we go.

 


 

MP#1  Why God?  Why are you doing this?  Why are you putting me, one of your followers through this and people who don’t believe in you doing fine?

The Lord answers:  This is my big parental reason, because I’m purifying you through these things, and I’m preparing my enemies for the day of judgment. 

 

Malachi says that when Christ appears he will be like a fire. 

What kind of fire?  Like a forest fire?  Like an incinerator’s fire?  Listen:

   he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of

   silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

A forest fire destroys indiscriminately.  An incinerator consumes completely.

   A refiners fire does not destroy indiscriminately or consume completely.

   It purifies.  It melts the gold or silver in the ore and separates the impurities that

   ruin its value.  It burns them up and leaves the precious metal intact and beautiful.

 

Christ is a refiner’s fire—and that makes all the difference.

You may feel like God is indiscriminately destructive. 

   Like he’s not making any distinction in the way he’s treating you, his child,

   and the way he’s treating other people.  Not giving you any special consideration.

   Not answering your prayers and your pleadings.  But he is making a distinction.

He knows exactly what he’s doing, because he regards you as precious.

  

You may feel that he is burning up everything in your life worth having—

   that he’s ruining your chance for the happy life you want—

   but he’s not, he’s just burning away your impurities.  Verse six says:

   I the Lord do not change.  So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not consumed, not destroyed.

 

He sanctifying you so that you will worship him with pure worship.

   You might not like it, you might kick against it, you might argue and argue

   and weary God with your questions and accusations—but he’s not going to

   change his mind, because he’s your heavenly father, and knows what is best.

And when you can get to a point where you can trust him enough to accept

   that he knows what he is doing, then you will have some peace.

 

But what about evil in the world?  What about cruelty and meanness and injustice?

   Doesn’t the Lord care?  How can he put up with that? 

Malachi says:  The Lord sees and will judge, says will be quick to testify against

   all evildoers.  That means you, my child can trust me in that too.

You might remember from our study of 1 Peter two years ago, this is Peter’s theme.

   Christ refining us with fire.  I told you story from Darlene Rose’s autobiography.

In case you don’t remember her story, she went to New Guinea as a missionary.

   She was 23 years old, a new bride.  She and her husband Russell were with the

   Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. 

Three years after they got to New Guinea, WWII broke out and they were   

   imprisoned by Japanese.  Russell sent to the men’s camp, Darlene to women’s.

They never saw each other again.  He died two years later.

   She ended up being imprisoned for four years in inhumane conditions.

 

Everything she had was taken away—not only her husband, her health was

   devastated by tropical diseases, her looks, as she put it “my once soft and fair skin

   was mottled from the hours I had to spend working in the beastly tropical sun,”

She had one possession she was able to keep.  One reminder of her husband,

   one memento of home back in Iowa.  She had her wedding album. 

   She kept it hidden from Japanese searches.  Sewn into her sleeping mat. 

But the camp was bombed, the barracks burned to the ground.

 

And a Darlene was walking through the ruins, this is what happened:

    “I stopped in front of where my bed would have been.  There, on the top of the heap of ashes lay my Bride’s Book—my beautiful Bride’s Book that I had carried with me all these years, sewn inside my native sleeping mat.  Somehow—no, not ‘somehow,’ but by my Father’s ordaining—the fingers of flame had peeled away the mat and flicked through the pages to the centerfold, where my marriage certificate was written in gold ink . . . It was so beautiful, the bright, shining, gold ink on the black, charred page—gold, purified by fire, glittering in the rays of the late-afternoon sun.  I dropped to my knees and reached out, but the moment I touched the book, it disintegrated and was gone.  I rocked back on my heels and in anguish cried, ‘Lord, that was the only thing I had left!  Couldn’t I have had that?  Just that one thing?  . . . Gently, so gently, He answered me, ‘My child, that’s what I want to do with you—make you like pure gold—even if I have to take you through the fire seven times.”

 

If you are in a bad marriage, or if you are in a bad job, having conflict at work—

   If you have suffered loss, if you have asked and asked and gotten no—

   the Lord knows you are hurting.  

He doesn’t put you through those things because he is cruel and unfeeling—

   but because the biggest thing he is doing is purifying you.

He’s a refiner’s and a launderer’s soap to his people and a judge to his enemies.

   He’s making you more and more holy, preparing you every year for the great

   life that he has prepared for us in his eternal kingdom.

You can kick and scream against that, or ask his Holy Spirit to help you rest in it.

   He will comfort you in your disappointment, and build your character.

Brings us to the next question.

MP#2  When?  When God?  You promise to hear and answer. 

So when are you going to come and set things right in my life and in the world?

The Lord answers:  I do hear, I will answer, but you are going to have to wait.

 

The believers in Malachi’s day wanted God to come and put things right.

   And in 3:1 he says that he will do just that.  He will send a messenger who

   will announce the coming of the Messiah, and then right on his heels,

   the Messiah himself will come and set all things right.

But it was 400 years before that prophecy was fulfilled.

   Four hundred years before the messenger, John the Baptist,

   announced the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

By that time, only a few people were still waiting for their arrival.

 

We read about one who was waiting—the old man Simeon.

When Simeon lived, Abraham had been dead 2,000 years, Moses 1,400.

   All the great prophets, like Malachi, who had encouraged the hearts of believers

   by predicting the coming of the Messiah, all of them had been dead for centuries.

Even Malachi, the last of the prophets, had been dead over four centuries.

 

Simeon’s ancestors, generation after generation, had lived in hopeful expectation

   of the coming of Christ, and all of them had died in disappointment.

Simeon himself was old.  He had probably concluded that it would not happen

   in his lifetime either.  Then suddenly, the Lord came into his temple,

   and Simeon saw him with his own eyes and held him in his arms.

We can only imagine what this must have meant to him.  Can feel in his words:

   Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word,

   for my eyes have seen your salvation.

Simeon was saying:  It was worth all the waiting to see this in God’s time.

 

There is a lot of this in the Bible.  God responds to the cries of his people with a

   promise that he will come and save them, and then he does not intervene for

   a long time, even for centuries. 

We experience this in this New Testament era.

   “Behold I am coming soon!”  That’s what Jesus tells us at the very end of the

   Book of Revelation.  Those are his exact words—Soon.

But that was 2,000 years ago he said that. 

   That’s as much time as separated Abraham from the birth of the Messiah.

 

We’re talking about God’s timetable on the grand scale of redemptive history.

   The centuries, the millennia, that he has taken to push back the effect of the

   fall in such a way that he is able to save and perfect a people for himself.

But he also applies his timetable to the individual scale of our lives.

   We sometimes pray and pray and pray for things God has clearly told us are

   his will, answers that he promises to give us. 

   We wait and wait and wait for those promise of God to be fulfilled.

And sometimes we wait our whole lives and never see them fulfilled.

 

“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  Psalm 27

When we read the Psalms especially, we learn that there are all sorts of good things

   that God has promised us, that he almost never gives us as soon as we want them.

We have to wait for the sanctification of our lives.

   Wouldn’t it be so much better if we were delivered right away from all pet sins? 

   If we were totally purified in thoughts and words?

How much pain and sorrow we would be spared from—

   not to mention how much nicer we would be to live with for other people.

 

We have to wait for certain burdens to be lifted.  Sometimes for many years.

I know a godly man, a brilliant New Testament professor,

   who had to take his handicapped father into his home. 

His father was profane, blasphemous, stubborn, and ungrateful. 

   His presence in the home was a huge trial to this professor.

He prayed and prayed that his father would be saved, prayed for peace—

   but the old man hung on for years, out of sheer meanness.

   Finally, the Lord took him, and this godly family could breathe again.

We could all tell similar stories of believers in hard marriages, bad workplaces,

   stuck in dead-end positions of various kinds.  And the Lord says wait.

   I haven’t forgotten you.  I will fulfill my promises and bless you.

 

God intends our life in this world to be a school of faith. 

This matter of waiting for the Lord is inseparably connected to faith. 

   In fact, one of the main differences between real Christians and unbelievers.

The unbeliever is all about the present.  He wants his good now.

   He is uninterested in the promise of it eventually.

   He doesn’t believe in the Word enough to be comforted by the promises.

But a true Christian will wait, in confident hope that, even though things are hard,

   the Lord has never disappointed his people yet.  He will come through.

   And when he does, both in our live and in history, it will be worth the waiting.

Brings us to the last question:

MP#3  How?  How are you going to work thing out in my life?  You’ve told me that it’s for my purification.  You’ve told me that you are going to set things right.  You’ve told me to wait.  But how? 

 

His answer is, through Jesus.

The very first thing God says to them when they angrily, disrespectfully ask,

   Where is the God of justice? is . . . Jesus. 

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord

   you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire,

   will come, says the LORD Almighty.

This is one of the greatest Old Testament prophecies of Christ.

 

These believers in Malachi’s time were upset with God for the life circumstances.

   Their lives were still hard, bad people were still flourishing.

God had told them over and over through the patriarchs and prophets,

   through signs and symbols and miracles—the Anointed One is coming.

   the seed of the woman, son of the promise, lion of Judah, suffering servant—

   he will sit on David’s throne and set all things right.

They said:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Messiah, we know  . . .

   but how are you going help us out of our financial and political problems?

 

God says:  Listen to me, all of redemptive history will be fulfilled in Christ.

And you, my chosen people, are united with him as your covenant mediator.

   You will be the recipients of all his blessings. 

   Take hold of Christ and you will be able to find peace in circumstances.

Think, if Malachi could say that to them, how much more should it apply to us?

   We’ve seen the prophecy fulfilled.  We know of Christ’s life, death, resurrection.

   We have the accounts of his miracles, he teaching, his ascension, promised return.

Are you wearing God with your unhappy and accusatory questions?  

   Lift your eyes and look at Jesus.

 

S. M. Lockridge was the pastor for forty years of Calvary Baptist Church in San

   Diego, a prominent African-American congregation.  He preached around world.

His most famous sermon is titled That’s My King.  You must listen on line.

   Dr. Lockridge had a powerful voice and delivery, like E.V. Hill.

   Behind that voice, a deep walk with God.

Although I can’t do it justice, read most famous excerpt from That’s My King. 

   Just imagine I’m a black man with a deep baritone. 

The Bible says my King is a seven-way king

He's the King of the Jews

He's the King of Israel

He's the King of Righteousness

He's the King of the Ages

He's the King of Heaven

He's the King of Glory

He's the King of kings, and He's the Lord of lords. That's my King.

Well....I wonder, do you know Him?

 

My King is a sovereign King.

No means of measure can define His limitless love.

No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply.

No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessings.

He's enduringly strong.

He's entirely sincere.

He's eternally steadfast.

He's immortally graceful.

He's imperially powerful.

He's impartially merciful.

Do you know Him?

 

He's the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world.

He's God's Son.

He's the sinner's Savior.

He's the centerpiece of civilization.

He stands in the solitude of Himself.

He's august and He's unique.

He's unparalleled.

He's unprecedented.

He is the loftiest idea in literature.

He's the highest personality in philosophy.

He is the supreme problem in higher criticism.

He's the fundamental doctrine of true theology.

He is the cardinal necessity for spiritual religion.

He's the miracle of the age.

He is—yes He is—He is the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him.

He's the only one qualified to be an all sufficient Savior.

I wonder if you know Him today?

 

He supplies strength for the weak.

He's available for the tempted and the tried.

He sympathizes and He saves.

He strengthens and sustains.

He guards and He guides.

He heals the sick.

He cleanses the lepers.

He forgives sinners.

He discharges debtors.

He delivers the captives.

He defends the feeble.

He blesses the young.

He serves the unfortunate.

He regards the aged.

He rewards the diligent....and He beautifies the meek.

I wonder if you know Him?

 

Well, my King . . . He is the King!

He's the key to knowledge.

He's the wellspring of wisdom.

He's the doorway of deliverance.

He's the pathway of peace.

He's the roadway of righteousness.

He's the highway of holiness.

He's the gateway of glory.

He's the master of the mighty.

He's the captain of the conquerors.

He's the head of the heroes.

He's the leader of the legislatures.

He's the overseer of the overcomers.

He's the governor of governors.

He's the prince of princes.

That’s my King.

 

Well, His office is manifold.

His promise is sure....and His light is matchless.

His goodness is limitless.

His mercy is everlasting.

His love never changes.

His word is enough.

His grace is sufficient.

His reign is righteous.

And His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

 

I wish I could describe Him to you, but He's indescribable—Yes He is!? He is God!

He's incomprehensible.

He's invincible.

He's irresistible.

The heavens of heavens can't contain Him, let alone some man explain Him.

Well, you can't get Him out of your mind.

You can't get Him off of your hand.

You can't out live Him, and you can't live without Him.

 

The Pharisees couldn't stand Him, but they found out they couldn't stop Him.

Pilate couldn't find any fault in Him.

The witnesses couldn't get their testimonies to agree.

Herod couldn't kill Him.

Death couldn't handle Him, and the grave couldn't hold Him.

Yes, that's my King, that's my King.

 

Are you unhappy, in distress because God hasn’t set your life right yet?

   Look to your King Jesus, and trust him.

 

God says:  I know you’re upset and angry with my decision, you don’t like your

   life right now, you wonder why I haven’t answered your prayers like you want.

I don’t want you to be miserable, constantly questioning and arguing.

   Listen to me.  I know what I’m doing.  I have a timetable for doing it.

   In the meantime, look at my Son, trust your King. 

 

And your disappointment will be softened, and your restlessness will be stilled,

   and you will rest in the blessings of the family circle,

   with your heavenly Father watching over you,

   and your Elder Brother at your side.